Council of Europe acts to put brakes on the spread of amphibian fungal disease
At its annual meeting at the Palace of Europe in Strasbourg, France last week – thanks to prompt interest, research and action by the Swiss Authorities – the Committee adopted a recommendation for contracting countries to take a wide range of new disease control measures including imposing immediate restrictions on the commercial salamander and newt trade in order to help prevent further spread of the disease. The newly discovered flesh-eating chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, is native to Asia and is thought to have been introduced to Europe via amphibians imported for the exotic pet trade. The disease brought salamander populations in the Netherlands to the brink of extinction, causing up to 96% declines and is feared likely to have a devastating effect on amphibian biodiversity elsewhere in Europe. With almost one third of amphibian species already in global decline, these restrictions are seen as an important step in attempting to bring the disease under control. The Standing Committee also recommended that a scientific risk assessment be conducted to assess detailed aspects of the new controls.
Eurogroup for Animals has welcomed the recommendation and stressed the importance of its urgent implementation and enforcement in order to protect salamander biodiversity.
“The case of salamanders and chytrid fungus is exemplary: non-domesticated, exotic species are difficult to keep, they often escape or owners release them, not being able or willing to care for them anymore. Some non-native species can then become invasive, spreading diseases, disrupting habitats or hybridizing or competing with indigenous species for food or habitat, and therefore threating them with extinction. Exotic pet trade should be regulated adopting Positive Lists that allow only species that do not risk threatening native wildlife and environment,” commented Reineke Hameleers, Eurogroup for Animals’ Director.
“A huge debt of gratitude must be paid to the Council of Europe and the Swiss government for their prompt intervention. The massive risks to biodiversity from the increasingly damaging international pet trade are long known. Costs will be cripplingly high and with no guaranteed outcome. One has to look to the failure of CITES and EU controls over 20 years in arriving at such inevitable crisis. The meagre economic benefits of the often damaging trade in wild animals are not sustainable. Europe needs a similar system to Australia, where wildlife management is more professional and credible,” added Tom Langton, conservation ecologist and expert consultant on amphibian and reptile conservation priorities to the Bern Convention in 2015.
The fungal pathogen is already infecting wild amphibian populations in Belgium and has reached Germany. In the UK, where it has affected captive salamander collections, reserve managers are concerned about the threat posed to the declining great crested newt.
Contracting Countries are expected to take prompt action in days to follow the recommendation in accordance with their duties as members of the Bern Convention. European wild amphibians’ populations are under imminent threat from the spread of the disease if urgent action is not taken.
Exotic pet trade should be regulated adopting Positive Lists that allow only species that do not risk threatening native wildlife and environment.Reineke Hameleers, Director at Eurogroup for Animals